GAZA DE LURE was sitting at the piano when Crumb arrived at the bungalow at 1421 Vista del Paso at a little after six in the evening of the last Saturday in July. The smoke from a half burned cigarette lying on the ebony case was rising in a thin, indolent column above the masses of her black hair. Her fingers idled through a dreamy waltz. Crumb gave her a surly nod as he closed the door behind him. He was tired and cross after a hard day at the studio. The girl, knowing that he would be all right presently, merely returned his nod and continued playing. He went immediately to his room, and a moment later she heard him enter the bathroom through another doorway.
Half an hour later he emerged, shaved, spruce, and smiling. A tiny powder had effected a transformation, just as she had known that it would. He came and leaned across the piano, close to her. She was very beautiful. It seemed to the man that she grew more beautiful and more desirable each day. The fact that she had been unattainable had fed the fires of his desire, transforming infatuation into as near a thing to love as a man of his type can ever feel.
“Well, little girl!” he cried gaily. “I have good news for you.”
She smiled a crooked little smile, and shook her head.
“The only good news that I can think of would be that the government had established a comfortable home for superannuated hop-heads, where they would be furnished, without cost, with all the snow they could use.”
The effects of her last shot were wearing off. He laughed good-naturedly.
“Really,” he insisted; “on the level, I’ve got the best news you’ve heard in moons.”
“Well?” she asked wearily.
“Old Battle-Axe has got her divorce,” he announced, referring thus affectionately to his wife.
“Well,” said the girl, “that’s good news—for her—if it’s true.” Crumb frowned.
“It’s good news for you,” he said. “It means that I can marry you now.”
The girl leaned back on the piano bench and laughed aloud. It was not a pleasant laugh. She laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks.
“What is there funny about that?” growled the man. “It would mean a lot to you—respectability, for one thing, and success, for another. The day you become Mrs. Wilson Crumb I’ll star you in the greatest picture that was ever made.”
“Respectability!” she sneered. “Your name would make me respectable, would it? It would be the insult added to all the injury you have done me. And as for starring—poof!” She snapped her fingers. “I have but one ambition, thanks to you, you dirty hound, and that is snow!” She leaned toward him, her two clenched fists almost shaking in his face. “Give me all the snow I need,” she cried, “and the rest of them may have their fame and their laurels!”
“Oh, very well,” he said. “If you feel that way about it, all right; but”—he turned suddenly upon her—“you’ll have to get out of here and stay out—do you understand? From this day on you can only enter this house as Mrs. Wilson Crumb, and you can rustle your own dope if you don’t come back—understand?”
She looked at him through narrowed lids. She reminded him of a tigress about to spring, and he backed away.
“Listen to me,” she commanded in slow, level tones. “In the first place, you’re lying to me about your wife getting her divorce. I’d have guessed as much if I hadn’t known, for a hop-head can’t tell the truth; but I do know. You got a letter from your attorney to-day telling you that your wife still insists not only that she will never divorce you, but that she will never allow you a divorce.”
“You mean to say that you opened one of my letters?” he demanded angrily.
“Sure I opened it! I open ’em all—I steam ’em open. What do you expect,” she almost screamed, “from the thing you have made of me? Do you expect honour and self-respect, or any other virtue in a hype?”
“You can get out of here!” he cried. “You get out now—this minute!”
She rose from the bench and came and stood quite close to him.
“You’ll see that I get all the snow I want, if I go?” she asked. He laughed nastily.
“You don’t ever get another bindle,” he replied.
“Wait!” she admonished. “I wasn’t through with what I started to say a minute ago. You’ve been hitting it long enough, Wilson, to know what one of our kind will do to get it. You know that either you or I would sacrifice soul and body if there was no other way. We would lie, or steal, or—murder! Do you get that, Wilson—murder? There is just one thing I won’t do, but that one thing is not murder, Wilson. Listen!” She lifted her face close to his and looked him straight in the eyes. “If you ever try to take it away from me, or keep it from me, Wilson, I shall kill you.”
Her tone was cold and unemotional, and because of that, perhaps, the threat seemed very real. The man paled.
“Aw, come!” he cried. “What’s the use of our scrapping? I was only kidding, anyway. Run along and take a shot—it’ll make you feel better.”
“Yes,” she said, “I need one; but don’t get it into your head that I was kidding. I wasn’t. I’d just as lief kill you as not—the only trouble is that killing’s too damned good for you, Wilson!”
She walked toward the bathroom door.
“Oh, by the way,” she said, pausing. “Allen called up this afternoon. He’s in town, and will be up after dinner. He wants his money.”
She entered the bathroom and closed the door. Crumb lighted another cigarette and threw himself into an easy chair, where he sat scowling at a temple dog on a Chinese rug.
A moment later Gaza joined Crumb in the little dining room. They both smoked throughout the meal, which they scarcely ever tasted. The girl was vivacious and apparently happy. She seemed to have forgotten the recent scene in the living room. She asked questions about the new picture.
“We’re going to commence shooting Monday,” he told her. Momentarily he waxed almost enthusiastic. “I’m going to have trouble with that boob author, though,” he said. “If they’d kick him off the lot, and give me a little more money, I’d make ’em the greatest picture ever screened!” Then he relapsed into brooding silence.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Worrying about Allen?”
“Not exactly,” he said. “I’ll stall him off again.”
“He isn’t going to be easy to stall this time,” she observed, “if I gathered the correct idea from his line of talk over the phone to-day. I can’t see what you’ve done with all the coin, Wilson.”
“You got yours, didn’t you?” he growled.
“Sure I got mine,” she answered, “and it’s nothing to me what you did with Allen’s share; but I’m here to tell you that you’ve pulled a boner if you’ve double-crossed him. I’m not much of a character reader, as proved by my erstwhile belief that you were a high-minded gentleman; but it strikes me the veriest boob could see that that man Allen is a bad actor. You’d better look out for him.”
“I ain’t afraid of him,” blustered Crumb.
“No, of course you’re not,” she agreed sarcastically. “You’re a regular little lion-hearted Reginald, Wilson—that’s what you are!”
The doorbell rang. “There he is now,” said the girl.
“What makes you think he’s a bad man?” he asked.
“Look at his face—look at his eyes,” she admonished. “Hard? He’s got a face like a brick-bat.”
They rose from the table and entered the living room as the Japanese opened the front door. The caller was Slick Allen. Crumb rushed forward and greeted him effusively.
“Hello, old man!” he cried. “I’m mighty glad to see you. Miss de Lure told me that you had phoned. Can’t tell you how delighted I am!”
Allen nodded to the girl, tossed his cap upon a bench near the door, and crossed to the centre of the room.
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Allen?” she suggested.
“I ain’t got much time,” he said, lowering himself into a chair. “I come up here, Crumb, to get some money.” His cold, fishy eyes looked straight into Crumb’s. “I come to get all the money there is comin’ to me. It’s a trifle over ten thousand dollars, as I figure it.
“Yes,” said Crumb; “that’s about it.”
“An’ I don’t want no stallin’ this time, either,” concluded Allen. “Stalling!” exclaimed Crumb in a hurt tone. “Who’s been stalling?”
“Oh, my dear man!” cried Crumb deprecatingly. “You know that in matters of this kind one must be circumspect. There were reasons in the past why it would have been unsafe to transfer so large an amount to you. It might easily have been traced. I was being watched—a fellow even shadowed me to the teller’s window in my bank one day. You see how it is? Neither of us can take chances.”
“That’s all right, too,” said Allen; “but I’ve been taking chances right along, and I ain’t been taking them for my health. I been taking them for the coin, and I want that coin—I want it pronto!”
“You can most certainly have it,” said Crumb.
“All right!” replied Allen, extending a palm. “Fork it over.”
“My dear fellow you don’t think that I have it here, do you?” demanded Crumb. “You don’t think I keep such an amount as that in my home, I hope!”
“Where is it?”
“In the bank, of course.”
“Gimme a cheque.”
“You must be crazy! Suppose either of us was suspected; that cheque would link up us fine. It would be as bad for you as for me. Nothing doing! I’ll get the cash when the bank opens on Monday. That’s the very best I can do. If you’d written and let me know you were coming, I could have had it for you. “
Allen eyed him for a long minute.
“Very well,” he said, at last. “I’ll wait till noon Monday.” Crumb breathed an inward sigh of profound relief.
“If you’re at the bank Monday morning, at half past ten, you’ll get the money,” he said. “How’s the other stuff going? Sorry I couldn’t handle that, but it’s too bulky.”
“The hootch? It’s goin’ fine,” replied Allen. “Got a young high-blood at the edge of the valley handlin’ it—fellow by the name of Evans. He moves thirty-six cases a week. The kid’s got a good head on him—worked the whole scheme out himself. Sells the whole batch every week, for cash, to a guy with a big truck. They cover it with hay, and this guy hauls it right into the city in broad daylight, unloads it in a warehouse he’s rented, slips each case into a carton labelled somebody or other’s soap, and delivers it a case at a time to a bunch of drug stores. This second guy used to be a drug salesman, and he’s personally acquainted with every grafter in the business.”
As he talked, Allen had been studying the girl’s face. She had noticed it before; but she was used to having men stare at her, and thought little of it. Finally he addressed her.
“Do you know, Miss de Lure,” he said, “there’s something mighty familiar about your face? I noticed it the first time I came here, and I been studyin’ over it since. It seems like I’d known you somewhere else, or some one you look a lot like; but I can’t quite get it straight in my head. I can’t make out where it was, or when, or if it was you or some one else. I’ll get it some day, though.”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m sure I never saw you before you came here with Mr. Crumb the first time.”
“Well, I don’t know, either,” replied Allen, scratching his head; “but it’s mighty funny.” He arose. “I’ll be goin’,” he said. “See you Monday at the bank—ten thirty sharp, Crumb!”
“Sure, ten thirty sharp,” repeated Crumb rising. “Oh say, Allen, will you do me a favour? I promised a fellow I’d bring him a bindle of M to-night, and if you’ll hand it to him it’ll save me the trip. It’s right on your way to the car line. You’ll find him in the alley back of the Hollywood Drug Store, just west of Cuyhenga on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard.”
“Sure, glad to accommodate,” said Allen; “but how’ll I know him?”
“He’ll be standin’ there, and you walk up and ask him the time. If he tells you, and then asks if you can change a five, you’ll know he’s the guy all right. Then you hand him these two ones and a fifty-cent piece, and he hands you a five dollar bill. That’s all there is to it. Inside these two ones I’ll wrap a bindle of M. You can give me the five Monday morning when I see you”
“Slip me the junk,” said Allen.
The girl had risen, and was putting on her coat and hat. “Where are you going—home so early?” asked Crumb.
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m tired, and I want to write a letter.”
“I thought you lived here,” said Allen.
“I’m here nearly all day, but I go home nights,” replied the girl.
Slick Allen looked puzzled as he left the bungalow.
“Goin’ my way?” he asked of the girl, as they reached the sidewalk.
“No,” she replied. “I go in the opposite direction. Good night!”
“Good night!” said Allen, and turned toward Hollywood Boulevard.
Inside the bungalow Crumb was signalling central for a connection.
“Give me the police station on Cuyhenga, near Hollywood,” he said. “I haven’t time to look up the number. Quick—it’s important!”
There was a moment’s silence and then:
“Hello! What is this? Listen! If you want to get a hop-head with the goods on him—right in the act of peddling—send a dick to the back of the Hollywood Drug Store, and have him wait there until a guy comes up and asks what time it is. Then have the dick tell him and say, ‘Can you change a five?’ That’s the cue for the guy to slip him a bindle of morphine rolled up in a couple of one-dollar bills. If you don’t send a dummy, he’ll know what to do next—and you’d better get him there in a hurry. What? No—oh, just a friend just a friend.”
Wilson Crumb hung up the receiver. There was a grin on his face as he turned away from the instrument.
“It’s too bad, Allen, but I’m afraid you won’t be at the bank at half past ten on Monday morning!” he said.